Review: Ubu! A Satirical Singalong at Leeds Playhouse

Kneehigh's Ubu! is playing in Leeds. Picture: Steve Tanner.
Kneehigh's Ubu! is playing in Leeds. Picture: Steve Tanner.
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Four stars out of five

It’s always a joyful and thought-provoking experience watching a Kneehigh production, but in a week when the abuse of power by men in positions of authority was very much in the news, their latest piece could not be more resonant.

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The innovative Cornish theatre company put a modern spin on Alfred Jarry’s ground-breaking play Ubu Roi, an anarchic critique of the greed, lies and corruption that lie at the heart of the establishment, which caused riots when it was first staged in Paris in 1896.

Here we see Mr Ubu (Katy Owen) and wife Mrs Ubu (Kneehigh founder and co-artistic director Mike Shepherd) arrive in the town of Lovelyville where they proceed to assassinate the benign leader Nick Dallas (Dom Coyote) and hoodwink the local population (the audience) into voting for measures that are clearly not in their interests. Any of this sounding familiar?

The show eloquently demonstrates how easily people are manipulated – and with the alarming rise of populism around world, it carries a timely message. While that may make it sound worthy, it is of course all delivered with Kneehigh’s customary humour and panache.

There is mischief, mayhem – and a whole load of raucous singing of hits ranging from the Carpenters and the Clash to Britney Spears and Mark Ronson (with the audience absolutely on board all the way) and brilliant musicianship from a house band, sporting the totally marvellous name The Sweaty Bureacrats.

It’s all completely crazy and apparently chaotic but never underestimate the thought that goes into making these pieces – there is most certainly method, and purpose, in the madness.

While on one level it might all seem like a jolly jape, with the commedia dell’arte tropes and the dirty jokes, this makes some very apposite swipes at the current geo-political situation and the terrifying future that may await us if we allow ourselves to be distracted.

It was all rounded off with a rendition of the old Louis Armstrong number What a Wonderful World. Well, there is an irony in that, given the troubling times we are living through, but while Kneehigh is in it, the world is certainly an infinitely better, and kinder, place.

To February 8.